Monday, December 20, 2010

The other side of the fence

As an aspiring author who follows numerous industry blogs, always looking for helpful advice, I've seen a lot of information about what to do and what not to do when querying an agent. Which is why, when I came across this comment by Another Anonymous Editor in reply to a post on Betsy Lerner's blog I was somewhat surprised and in a strange way comforted.

Where to start?
Agents who take to Twitter to air a grievance against ONE editor but make it sound as though everyone does whatever it is they’re ticked about. Usually looks something like :”Editors: Don’t do this. It annoys me.” I don’t even care if ALL editors do whatever it is. Kvetching on a public forum, even if you’re not naming names but especially if it’s a blanket whine aimed at all editors who might decide to “annoy” you in future, is unprofessional and whiny and does NOT make me want to work with you.

Agents who set arbitrary deadlines as to when they expect to hear back from me (or….what exactly? You’ll pull the project? You’ll send the Timing Police to rough me up?). These deadlines are ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS ludicrous. I read a project on my schedule, not yours. FYI–those tend to be auto-rejects for me.

Agents who don’t include A SINGLE SENTENCE OF SYNOPSIS in their pitch. Just go on and on about how the author won this award I’ve never heard of or that they’re really good at taking direction. I get to the end of their query and I have no idea what the stupid book is about.

While we’re on pitches, how about lazy agents who don’t even pitch. “Thought you might like this.” I get that from agents I’ve never had a conversation with (and they usually haven’t done an iota of research on my house to see that I don’t do books like that). I’m always tempted to forward the pitch to the author and say, “Is this really who you want representing you? Someone who couldn’t be bothered to actually try to get me interested in your book?”

Agents who see on Publishers Marketplace that I’ve just acquired a book with LGBT subject matter and then bombard me with identical projects, thinking, “Hey, he’s buying LGBT stuff!!” I’m at a tiny press with a diverse list. When you see I just bought an LGBT book, you should send me something completely different.

God, that feels good. Having said all that, I’ve worked with some amazing agents. Agents who really have done their homework and have a lock on what I look for. Agents who write queries so stunning that not only do I request the full manuscript immediately but I stop whatever I’m doing and start reading it the second it’s in my inbox. (OK, that’s only happened twice but it’s happened.) Agents who are patient with the quirks of a small house. Agents who are genuinely interested in helping their client’s careers but only get involved when it’s absolutely necessary (as opposed to, say, micromanaging every step of the process by shooting countless e-mails to editors, publicists, copywriters, and even sales people and trying to dictate what SHOULD be happening).

There are fabulous agents that I adore working with. And there are agents that better hope I’m not the one holding the life preserver when they’re drowning.

Don't worry Aspiring Authors, we're not the only ones with all the guidelines and unwritten rules to follow. Luckily we are intelligent and follow the blogs of agents who wouldn't make these mistakes and know what we need to do to avoid making any agents facepalm in frustration.

Janet Reid also posted this example recently which is probably an example of a the sort of query Anon Editor is talking about.

My biggest challenge (once I'm at that stage) will be writing the query that makes the agent want more. And that's going to be hard enough without shooting myself in the foot without all the other easily avoidable mistakes.

So why do I feel comforted? Because I know I am smart and professional enough not to make these mistakes. Even if I am seeing it from the other side of the fence.

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